Hal Ketchum

The King of Love

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One has to ask why in the name of heaven Hal Ketchum allowed "Everytime I Look in Your Eyes" to be the opening track on his first album in two years. Perhaps it was a concession to Curb, or he had a momentary lapse of reason. Whatever the reason, it's one of the most unlistenable, sugary sweet, slicker than schlock excuses for a song to be heard in close to a decade. It's the only track here Ketchum didn't write or co-write, and it wasn't picked as the first single (thank God), so what the hell? Luckily, the 14 other songs here are substantially better. Ketchum produced this album (all but that cursed track) and did a fine job. It's a lot more polished than his Austin material, but the songs themselves are inspired, the arrangements are spare enough to let the subtle emotion in his voice come through the grain in the music, and the performances themselves are solid. Standout tracks include "As Long as You Love Me," a duet with the inimitably brilliant Jonell Mosser, and the title track, with its Bo Diddley shuffle done on acoustic guitars with a snarling electric in the background before it explodes into a pure roots rock extravaganza. The old R&B roots of Ketchum's New York past come through in "On Her Own Time," a stunning vocal performance. The B-sharp in the background shimmering above the guitars is a particularly nice touch. The passion in Ketchum's voice, with Mosser in the background, cracks the track wide open and what spills out is a truth that both singer and listener can believe in.

The evidence here suggests -- as it does on his other recordings -- that Ketchum couldn't write a bad song if he tried. His work is fine; there are no extra words cluttering up his stories, no overblown phrases and rambling ellipses. The bluesy shuffle in "Takin' My Time" and the near funky "The Way She Loves Me" are nice twists that might have been better served if he employed Austin's Archangels to back him instead of his own band, but they're still fine cuts. Guy Clark makes an appropriate appearance on "The Carpenter's Way"; given his own penchant for tools and woodworking, it's a waltz full of dobro and fiddles and bouzouki. The hippest track here, "Evangeline," a co-write with Charlie Daniels, has echoes of Bob Dylan's "It's Alright Ma (I'm Only Bleeding)," but digs deeper into the blues with backing vocals by Tim O'Brien. The fretless bassline and bodhran in "Skies Over Dublin" make a simple country song into a gorgeous pop tune, with its shape-shifting lines and atmospherics. It's as if Daniel Lanois were producing Celine Dion. In sum, Ketchum has given listeners a fine example of where he's at as a songwriter and proves himself as a producer, as this is a solid work -- other than the one offending moment (why didn't he place it last?). The King of Love is a fine outing, full of passion, verve, soul, and honesty.

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